The Egyptian president has called for a national dialogue in an effort to resolve the country's political crisis. The move follows deadly clashes between his supporters and opposition protesters
Speaking in a nationally televised address late on Thursday, President Mohammed Morsi invited members of the opposition to draw up a political roadmap to lead the country out of the crisis.
"I call for a full, productive dialogue with all figures and heads of parties, revolutionary youth and senior legal figures to meet this Saturday," Morsi said. However, he also vowed that a referendum on a draft constitution drawn up by an Islamist-dominated assembly would go ahead as planned on December 15.
"We respect peaceful freedom of speech but will never allow anyone to take part in killings and sabotage," the president added, in an apparent reference to the deadly clashes between his supporters and opposition protesters 24 hours earlier.
Officials now say seven people were killed and 644 others wounded in Wednesday night's violence, which broke out after the president's Muslim Brotherhood announced a march to the area around the palace, where opposition demonstrators had been camped out.
Earlier on Thursday, members of the Republican Guard had erected a barbed-wire barricade keeping members of the public around 150 meters (492 feet) away from the palace in a Cairo suburb. The tanks that had been deployed around the palace earlier in the day remained, and protesters pulled back after a mid-afternoon deadline imposed by the military. A presidential statement had threatened the protesters with forcible removal had they refused to leave of their own accord.
While most of the supporters of the Islamist Morsi left the area around the palace altogether, many opposing demonstrators remained close by - albeit behind the barrier.
A key feature of the powers seized by the president on November 22 renders his decrees immune to judicial review, a move that would reduce the power of the country's courts, with which Morsi has been at odds since he took office on June 30.
The president argued that he needed the expanded powers to push through political reforms.
pfd/mz (AFP, Reuters, dpa)